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Synopsis

The year is 2021
The Advanced Covert Engagements Section (A.C.E.S.) has been formed to combat the greatest threat that mankind has ever known. They will operate in secret. They are the world’s most elite war-fighters… (For the most part).
HIC SUNT MONSTRA…
Here there be monsters!


Chapter 5 & 6

First Contact

CHAPTER 5
April 20th 2021
0645 hours
Gossamer Muse Super Cruise-liner
Deck Seven, Casino

“Did you know that the Marianas Trench lies beneath the Dragon’s Triangle? And below us right now are mountain ranges taller than Mount Everest?
“What?”
“I said- “did you know that the Marianas Trench lies beneath the Dragon’s Triangle? And below us right now there are mountain ranges taller than Mount Everest?”
“Uh…yeah. Thanks for tip.” I replied trying to ignore him and maintain my focus down the un-lit hallway.
Like that bit of info will come handy right now.
“The name’s Portland, by the way,” he said softly peeping sheepishly around the door-way down the hall.
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever, pal,” I replied dismissively.
Two tense minutes, later the sound of several bursts mini-gun fire erupted from the dark hallway ahead of us.
“Colonel, I have gunfire. The commandos are engaging the terrorists. Requesting permission to engage!”
Static. I tapped at my ear-piece in vain.
“If any unit is receiving this transmission please respond.”
The COM was down.
“Concentrated atmospheric saturation,” Portly offered almost excitedly as he waved his Multi-spectrum scanner before him like a divining rod.
“Fascinating,” I groaned, “Now try saying that in English, Portly.”
“You’re…we’re being jammed but not in the conventional sense, you see. Think more like a fog or invisible mist and it’s spreading randomly in patches about the vessel. I’ve started to loose contact with the sensors we’ve been placing throughout the ship. You see, under controlled conditions to create a concen…”
“Save the science lesson, Portly,” I snapped at the over-weight technician.
Another tense minute of silence went by until the annoying technician worked up the nerve to speak again.
“Terrorists?”
“What are you on about now?”
“You said terrorists,” he babbled on.
“No offense, friend. But I really don’t see the sense of having you techs in the field. You guys just get in the way in situations like this.”
“This from the guy who thinks we were sent here after terrorists,” he chuckled cynically. “You obviously didn’t read the fine-print when you signed up for this out-fit did you? Hello? Project Blue Book mean anything to you?”
Great, I thought to myself. I get stuck here with the crazy.
The technician continued to babble.
“You know that ‘thing’ that looks like an ‘A’ above the A.C.E.S. insignia?”
I rolled my eyes as he paused for dramatic effect and he answered his own question.
“For the record… that’s not an ‘A.'”
“Also…,” he droned on gesturing animatedly. “..Our units’ insignia happens to be a derivative of the ancient Chinese Yin and Yang symbol,” he said matter of factly.
He paused looking at me expectantly as if waiting for me to get the punch-line of a joke. Shaking his head he sighed loudly and pointed to the insignia-painted on the shoulder-plate of my combat-armour,
“A dragon locked in eternal combat with a tiger with the motto “Hic Sunt Monstra.” Do you even know what that means? ‘Google’ it sometime, jar-hea-”
With a wave of my hand I cut him off.
“Shut up, Portly,” I growled shouldering my rifle, “I think I hear someone coming.”
Sure enough the faint staggered foot-falls become louder. So did Portly’s nervously chattering teeth. I took a breath, held it, and prepared to fire into the darkness.
Suddenly Jin-Lao stepped into the beam of my flash-light. He looked as if he was on the verge of collapse. His M4AI assault rifle hung limply from the sling draped across his chest. He leaned against the bulk-head as he dragged himself towards us with great effort.
I went to him. He collapsed into my arms as I neared him. With Portly’s help I dragged the wounded commando back to the doorway.
Jin-Lao’s face had become drawn and ashen-white and his lips were a blue-black colour. The blood vessels around his eyes, nostrils and mouth showed clearly- like thin blue threads. His skin was cold. Suddenly he began to convulse un-controllably. We laid him face down on the floor. A large blade- like shard protruded from his back. It was a foot long if it was an inch.
I grabbed hold of it and yanked it loose and Jin-Lao exploded in agony. The thick, viscous liquid that oozed from the knife-like ‘spike’ burned at my hand through my glove.
“What kind of weapon shoots this?” I thought as I briefly examined the spike then tossed it away quickly.
Portly passed his scanner over the gaping wound.
“His vitals are dropping fast and I’m reading lethal levels toxins in his blood stream data,” Portly announced alarmed. “Help me turn him over.”
As I did so Jin-Lao pulled me closer.
“Kaiju,” he cried his voice barely a whisper. “Help Tan,” he pleaded gasping for breath. Then with one sudden violent convulsion he was dead.
Kaiju? I thought. Monster?
Portly tried in vain to resuscitate him with C.P.R. then turned to me,
“What do we do now?”
For a brief moment all I couldn’t help but stare into Jin-Lao’s pitch-black irises as the light faded from them. Without a word I un-slung Jin-Lao’s M4A1 assault rifle from his corpse, checked it for ammo and passed it to Portly.
“Anything comes back down this hallway that isn’t me..,” I said trying not to seem rattled, “…you pull that trigger. And when that gun stops firing…run.”
I could tell from the flashlight beam on the bulk-heads, as I marched down the dark hall-way from whence Jin-Lao had come, that Portly was shaking with fear. It might have been funny if I wasn’t shaking too.

The beam from my flashlight cut through the darkness like a knife. I had purposely decided not to switch to N.V.G.s for two reasons. Since conventional Night Vision Goggles amplified ambient light, if the power were to be somehow restored, by the techs working at poolside, I would be temporarily flash blinded the moment it came back on. And that would not be good if at that time I happened to be face to face with whatever killed Jin-Lao. And two: ‘it’ seemed to be avoiding even the dimly lit areas. So maybe it was afraid of the light. If ‘it’ was; then the light was my friend. Or maybe I was just afraid to be in the dark.
With measured steps, I slowly made my way down the winding hall-way, traversing my weapon left to right. The configuration of Gossamer Muse made it easy for passengers to find their way around since the main entertainment and recreation decks were located between the passenger decks. But it also made it difficult to search deck by deck since all 29 of Schindler elevators on board the vessel were off-line. The layout also provided many ambush points and hiding places for potential threats, especially in the dark.
I entered a large partially lit area. It was the central boarding area. I swept the interior with the point of my assault rifle. Before me stood a majestic nine-storey atrium which offered a view up through a massive skylight to the morning light on deck 14. Large blue/green glass walls and windows stylishly separated the decks surrounding up the atrium’s length. The atrium was dominated by a five deck high lalique-style water sculpture, of a tastefully unclothed nymph pouring a vase of water, which served as a backdrop for the main stair-case that branched off to the upper decks on opposing sides of the lobby. Off to the right, there was a two deck tall water-fall and a stage built for a small orchestra that would welcome passengers aboard. When they built the Gossamer Muse it was obvious they spared no expense. I was so caught up in gawking at the ship’s architecture that I forgot why I was here until I tripped over what I thought was luggage left at the foot of the staircase. Stupid.
As I got to my feet my light passed over the errant ‘luggage’. It was Tan. Point of fact it was Tan’s lifeless body sans his head. In a panic I scrambled backwards on my ass away from corpse. Quickly regaining my composure I got to my feet, shouldered my assault rifle and started scanning the lobby for Tan and Jin-Lao’s murderer. A scraping sound came from the landing half-way up the lavish stair-case.
As the beam of my gun-mounted flashlight slowly ran the length of the stair an area of red carpet near the top of stair rippled like heat off a tin roof on a hot summer day. The ripple moved down the stairs towards me and stopped.
The ripple diffused to reveal a grey and white pock-marked insect-like crustacean the size of a small horse. It looked like a finned crab with six dangerous looking spider-like legs that pierced the floor of the stair-case as it moved. The creature had two mean metre long crab claws and huge horizontal mandibles protruded from, what I assumed was, the base of its head. As if that wasn’t enough it had two segmented scorpion-like tails that hung menacingly over its shell-armoured body. It let out a loud gurgling hiss.
I squeezed the trigger of my OICWv2. The three rounds of semi automatic fire hit their mark.
The creature leapt over the side of the staircase and made for the waterfall. It was trying to out-flank me! The colour of its shell changed constantly as it moved from shadowed to lit areas. It was unbelievably fast for something so big.
I switched the selector on my assault rifle to ‘full- auto.’
The creature leapt up onto the wall. Its two tails streamed behind it like ribbons on a little girl’s bicycle as it ran along the walls.
I let loose with everything that was left in the forty round magazine. The reflection of the muzzle flashes of my OICWv2 lit up the darkened lobby as shattered glass from the enormous atrium cascaded noisily into the lobby floor like a crystal waterfall.
It leapt from the wall and charged at me.
I thumbed the selector again and fired off seven of eight 16mm explosive shells at the creature. The motion sensitive laser mounted on the gun-sight had locked on to the creature. One by one, the seven explosive shells swooped after their target. And one by, one they exploded sequentially behind the fast moving creature until the last round hit it square on.
It went down.
There was glass everywhere. The part of the atrium was shattered and the water-sculpture totally destroyed along with part of the upper stair-case and sections of the floor. A thin veil of smoke wafted through the lobby. The fire-sprinklers had been set off and were bathing the entire lobby with salt water.
The creature laid on the ground it writhing slowly. A portion of its hard exterior shell had been smashed opened by a 16mm explosive round. It seemed to bleed a black viscous liquid.
I re-loaded my weapon. Soaking wet I approached the dying creature and emptied my weapon on it. Again. Just in case…
Suddenly, there were foot-steps on the stairs behind me. I immediately turned, shouldered my weapon and searched for the source of the noise. The beam of my flashlight tracked the stair. Nothing. The foot-steps suddenly stopped at the bottom of the stair near Tan’s body with a sick wet thud. The beam of light fell upon its intended target. The source of noise: It was his head. Or what was left of it.
From the top of the staircase came a, now familiar, loud gurgling hiss.
Instinctively, I raised my rifle and fired my last explosive round. The creature didn’t have time to move. It didn’t need to…..
….I missed.

CHAPTER 6
April 20th 2021
0655 hours
Gossamer Muse Super Cruise-liner
Deck Seven, Main Atrium lobby-level

The creature hissed and whipped its two tails forward. Two spikes like the one that killed Jin-Lao flew at me. I barely managed to duck one while the other struck and lodged itself firmly into the side of my OICWv2 which I had instinctively used as a shield. The creature hissed angrily and charged down the stair. I dropped my now damaged assault rifle and ran for my life.
Outside the sun had come up so the hallways were no longer as pitch-black dark as they had been when we first arrived. It could have been that my eyes had adjusted to the dark or that I was just scared out of my mind but as I ran down the winding hallways at full sprint I had no trouble seeing my way. Neither did the creature at my heels. As I rounded a bend I could see Portly standing at the door-way, where I had left him, with his Chinese M4A1 assault rifle.
“Good-old, Portland,” I thought as I ran to him. That was until he raised the rifle and aimed right at me. It was then I realized the son-of-a-bitch had his eyes shut tightly. The multiple barrels of the M4A1 roared to life flashed angrily as they spun at 8000 RPM.
Time, technology and Chinese genius had overcome the weight, complexity and external power issues that had prevented the earlier creation of effective usable single-operator mini-guns on the modern battlefield. The M4A1 Ultra-lite triple pulse assault rifle was a five barrelled hydraulic operated mini-gun that could fire three thousand five hundred 5.56mm rounds a minute from two cylindrical magazines, one in the stock; the other just after the gun’s fore-grip. A monster of an assault rifle originally intended to be used as an infantry support weapon and to take down fast-moving aircraft. It was light-weight, water-proof, and fired devastating armour-piercing bullets.
I dropped to the deck and slid toward portly as if he were the home-plate in a baseball game as super-machine gun fire sliced through the air just above my head. The second creature let out a blood curdling squeal. Shredded by a torrent of bullets it tumbled down the hallway carried by its own momentum into the path of more of Portly’s gun-fire.
I slid to a halt at Portly’s feet. The five barrels of his M4A1 were still spinning furiously even though all the ammunition had been spent. His eyes shut tightly he repeated the phrase, “I am not a Red-shirt.” Over and over like some weird mantra.
“You can lay off the trigger now,” I said looking up at Portly, “I think you got him.”
Surprised he opened his eyes and looked down at me on the floor next to him. I was soaked to the bone, out of breath and pissed.
“Thank God you’re back!” Portly cried cheerfully.
I let out a half-hearted chuckle.
He helped me to my feet, “You’re bleeding,” he observed.
“I’m fine,” I said. I had taken a round to the shoulder. It hurt.
While I rifled through my pockets for a field dressing Portly went over to the dead creature with his scanner gizmo. Then I heard a familiar voice call out my name.
Portly turned, startled, his weapon raised with its barrels spinning impotently.
It was Sabre. The cavalry had arrived. Blade, Sabre and Soul-train. The three soldiers approached us cautiously and secured the area before Sabre put aside her OICWv2 and immediately started tending to my shoulder.
“You always this unlucky or do you go out looking for trouble?” she smiled warmly as she sat me gently on the floor.
“No. ‘Trouble’ usually seems to know where I am most of the time.” I sighed exhaustedly.
Sabre smiled warmly and shook her head,
“Well… how bout that.”
Her twin-brother glanced at me rolled his eyes and shook his head as he walked past us. “Geez…, get a room you two,” he groaned.
Train walked right past me to Portly and the dead creature. To my surprise he did not seem phased by the extraordinary sight at all. Train kicked the creature’s dead carcass.
“Looks like we got another “Crusty” here!” he announced to the others.
“You do this?” He asked over his shoulder as Sabre removed the shoulder plate of my body armour.
“No. That one’s his.”
Portly proudly patted the Chinese assault rifle that hung at his waist until it clumsily slipped from his grip and clattered to the floor.
“Looks like he nearly took you out too,” Train observed.
“The one I killed is down the hall in the arrival lounge,” I offered quickly changing the subject
Train signalled to Blade who headed down the hall-way alone to confirm the kill.
“Then that makes four,” Sabre said as she ripped open a packet of gauze dressing with her teeth and proceeded to wrap my wounded shoulder.
“We ran into two of those bad boys on our way here. One of them “Crusties” damn near dragged Huck off. We had to chase the damn thing down two decks just to get him back. The bastard nearly tore his leg off! We had the Chinese, with us, take him top-side for medical treatment while we came to get you,” Sabre offered as she tightened the dressing.
“As if we could stop her,” Train added jokingly.
“The two Chinese, Tan and Jin-Lao are dead,” I added, “What the hell’s going on?”
“The shit’s hit the fan,” Train said giving Portly the signal to wrap up his data and specimen collecting. “Just before the COM went down those ‘Pod things’ Colt and his team found in engineering started hatching. Then all hell broke loose. Some kind of “pod-people” started attacking Colt’s team.”
“Colt and Priest barely made it top-side,” Sabre added re-attaching the damaged shoulder-plate. I nodded in thanks.” They lost a Tech and a Chinese commando.”
“The head of the Tech-team, Dr. Myers thinks the ‘Podies’ might be the passengers and crew,” Train continued checking his watch, “the Chinese are planting explosive charges on some of the upper decks and locking down exits with fast drying iron-polymer foam the techs brought with them. The plan is to hold the ‘Podies’ here for extraction and examination by medical teams that are supposedly en-route now.”
“Supposedly en-route?”
“We don’t know for sure. We lost contact with the PWR Ops-Center when the Podies started moving,” Train explained.
“Great,” I sighed.
“How is he, Sabre?”
“He’s o.k. Only a bullet wound, Sir. No artery or major-organ damage.” she responded, her tone ripe with relief. Still, her comment hurt more than the bullet.
Train raised an annoyed eye-brow the armed Technician who shied away embarrassed.
“You’re pretty lucky. Looks like those giant crab-things shoot off some sort venomous spiked barb projectile laden with some virulent cytotoxin and myotoxin cocktail,” Sabre explained. “Very nasty. Very painful.”
Without warning Blade came running back down the hall-way yelling,
“Multiple hostiles in bound! Let’s book!”
I knew then, that the situation had to have gone from bad to much, much worse because the usually stoic Blade hardly ever exhibited emotion; least of all panic.
Sabre pulled me to my feet and we were off. Bounding down the semi-lit hall-ways of the G.M. we could not return to the upper decks the way the others had come. The colonel had ordered the Chinese to seal off those passages, with the fast drying iron-polymer foam, to halt the advance of the ‘Podies.’ Since the ship was too big for a small force like ours to lock-down on such short notice it was hoped that a few sealed pathways and strategically planted explosives would discourage to Podies if they attempted to move top-side.
Train led us to an upper-deck and, to my surprise, a functioning elevator. The techs were definitely earning their pay today, I thought as we boarded the elevator.
The ‘Podies,’ as train referred to them, were on the move. And since the ship was sinking and all the outer doors were sealed they had only one way out. One way off this ship…. and that would be through us. And if Doctor Palmer was correct and it was the Passengers and crew of the Gossamer Muse we didn’t have nearly enough ammunition to stop all forty-five hundred of them.
The elaborately mirrored elevator shuddered gently and slowly started its ascent up the Cruise-ship. We all stood silently, then, softly above us the haunting melody of Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on” started playing. No one said a word until Portly turned to me and awkwardly broke the silence,
“I love this song.”

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Sean Koping

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